Arsenal’s walloping of Blackburn Rovers on Saturday has had many people claiming the renewed vigour in attack will secure a Champions League spot.
While the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arsene Wenger’s side suddenly being able to convert their chances will be key, the most important improvement will lie elsewhere in the Gunners side.
The game against Aston Villa a week ago last Sunday was this crucial moment, not the fact that an inspired Arsenal side turned around a two-goal deficit but when Wenger was able to name a recognised full-back in his squad for the first time since December 6.
Arsenal have been missing the influence of their experienced wide defenders during the difficult run that saw them lose three Premier League games in a row and not register a league win at all in January.
Although it is not the sole reason for this run of poor form, it felt as though some decent wide defenders could possibly have gone some way to preventing these calamites.
Wojciech Szczesny was partly culpable for the winner at Fulham, but it was the pressure put on the team after the sending off Johan Djourou when he was unable to deal with the dribbling of young winger Kerim Frei and brought down Bobby Zamora to garner a second yellow card.
At Swansea the inexperience of young defender Ignasi Miquel was exposed for the Swans winning goal, just after Arsenal had dragged themselves back into the game. It was an unfortunate beginning to the young Spaniard’s time on the first XI as he was forced to play out of position.
Even Francis Coquelin showed some promise while covering at both left and right back, only for him to also be struck down with an injury and miss a number of games.
The loss to Manchester United was primarily remembered for the hostility voiced at Wenger for his substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain, but United’s first-half dominance was centred around exploiting Djourou’s deficiencies in the position.
This was displayed by the first goal and Ryan Giggs’ crossing to Antonio Valencia, who was also poorly marked by Thomas Vermaelen – another one who was playing out of position.
It is no coincidence that the Gunners’ clean sheet at Bolton came about in Bacary Sagna’s return to the starting line-up, however toothless they were up front.
Kieran Gibbs is back in full training once more and is expected to return to the squad for their next game away to Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, a timely boost considering the form Martin O’Neill’s men are currently in.
The return of Gibbs and Sagna should not only improve Arsenal’s defensive efficiency, but their attacking play will also benefit. The role of the full-back is integral to the Gunners’ offensive set-up, with late runs beyond opposition counterparts one of the main ways to get balls into the box.
It is not only the crossing, but their superior technique on the ball and more of a natural instinct for attack, something that has been severely lacking with two central defenders filling the roles.
Natural full-backs are also more adept at recycling possession and should be less likely to lose the ball when under pressure in tight wide positions.
In reality it is the mental state of the Arsenal players that will dictate their recovery but the introduction Sagna, Gibbs and the others could go a long way to restoring some order to play and subsequently have a positive effect on the team’s mentality as a whole.
The form of stars such as Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Oxlad-Chamberlain is obviously important, but it is the supporting cast that lay the foundations for success.
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